OLD TOWN – When more than 158,000 Allied troops stormed beaches on Normandy 76 years ago a Penobscot Indian was among them.
Charles Shay, now a tribal elder from the Penobscot Indian Nation, was one of the U.S. Army soldiers involved in the historic D-Day invasion of France.
“E and F Company of the 16th [Infantry] Regiment, 2nd Battalion had been selected to spearhead the invasion of Normandy beaches,” Shay said during a Zoom interview from France. “We landed on Normandy beach at 0630 on the sixth of June 1944.”
“Just 19 years old on D-Day, he was a medic who repeatedly risked his own life by rescuing wounded soldiers on the beach while undergoing heavy enemy fire,” Sen. Susan Collins said during last year’s Veteran’s Day gathering at Brewer High School. “He went back into the water time and time again dragging out the wounded soldiers and treating those that he could save and comforting those who he could not.”
Shay just turned 96 and now lives in Normandy about 20 miles from Omaha Beach, the cliff he stormed as a teen-aged soldier.
“I want them to remember the sacrifice of mostly young men, of course they were all ages, but many young men who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of Europe,” said the veteran, who also served during the Korean War. “This is something we should never forget.”
“I feel that I have contact with them even though they have been dead for over 75 years now,” he added. “I feel they are still walking the beaches, their souls are still walking the beaches… and I hold a ceremony each year and I assure them they are not forgotten.”
Shay earned a Silver Star and France’s highest military award – The Legion of Honor – for his actions seven decades ago. And the Charles Shay Memorial in Saint-Laurent-Sur-Mer now stands in his honor.
“I’d like to say hello to all my friends,” he said. “To Sen. Angus King and Sen. Susan Collins, give them my regards. They visited me here last year.”
Collins said she will never forget that visit.
“At the cemetery that looks over Omaha Beach, I called him a hero, which he clearly is. He replied, ‘No, I’m not a hero, I was just doing my job. The real heroes are those who lie buried in that cemetery.'”